Is There a Moderate Islam?

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Over at the NewsReal blog they’ve been arguing for several days, while I was flying through the air in a tin can, giving a talk, flying elsewhere in another tin can, etc., over whether or not I am right about the non-existence of moderate Islam. And so now it is time for a Marshall McLuhan moment. If you don’t know what I mean by that, watch this clip.

Here’s the latest: “David Swindle’s Complaint is a Diversion,” by John R. Guardiano at NewsReal, March 15. In it, Guardiano takes issue with Swindle, a fellow NewsReal Blog writer, for saying that he “‘viciously’ and ‘harshly’ attacked Robert Spencer” by apparently calling me “ignorant,” “caricaturing,” and “right-wing.” And Guardiano says:

The bottom line is this: Robert Spencer is a big boy and an accomplished scholar. Surely, he can handle a little mild-mannered criticism. I certainly have nothing against him.

In fact, I respect Mr. Spencer and his work, even if I think (as I do) that he is ultimately and profoundly wrong or mistaken about Islam and the war against radical Islam.

And he adds: “My hope is that we can discuss substantive issues without all this Sturm und Drang over hurt and bruised feelings.”

Absolutely, Mr. Guardiano. My feelings are not now and never have been hurt. I appreciate David Swindle’s defense of my work, but I don’t care what anyone calls me, and I’ve been called far worse than anything John Guardiano has said here. If such things bothered me, I would never have lasted so long doing this work publicly, especially given the viciousness, dishonesty, and taste for ad hominems of the Leftist/jihadist attack machine.

Anyway, to the point: does a moderate Islam — by which I mean a version of Islam that does not teach that believers must make war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law — exist at all?

Perhaps Mr. Guardiano would take issue with that definition of moderate Islam. He says here:

But the idea that Islam is inherently threatening and irredeemable also isn’t true. This charge, in fact, is a dangerous and malicious lie. In reality, as Dinesh D’Souza observes in his excellent (albeit much misunderstood) book, The Enemy at Home: the Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11:

The Koran, like the Old Testament, has a number of passages recommending peace and others celebrating the massacre of the enemies of God.

D’Souza doesn’t mention, of course, and probably doesn’t know, that the Qur’an’s violent passages are presented as open-ended commands for believers to wage war against unbelievers, while the Old Testament’s violent passages are specific to particular individuals and situations, and are never presented as open-ended commands to all believers.

Nor does D’Souza ever manifest any awareness of the fact that the Qur’an is not simply a book containing passages with different emphases that are more or less up for grabs as to how believers interpret them. In reality, in stark contrast to the Jewish and Christian traditions that have worked to spiritualize in various ways the violent passages of the Bible, the literal understanding of the violent Qur’anic passages has always held sway in Islamic theology — and they have been considered binding. They are also considered to take precedence over the Qur’an’s more tolerant passages.

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what Muslim authorities say:

1. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, a pious Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, explains the progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.”

The Qur’an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “the religion is God’s” – that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Ibn Ishaq gives no hint that that command died with the seventh century.

Question for John Guardiano: I take it you believe that Ibn Ishaq was wrong, and misunderstood the true, peaceful teachings of the Qur’an and Muhammad?

2. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).”

Question for John Guardiano: I take it you believe that the Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia also was wrong in thinking that warfare against unbelievers was obligatory, and that he misunderstood the Qur’an?

3. The great medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350) outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.”

The idea that one must fight the “polytheists” until “God’s religion was fully established” was understood throughout Islamic history as referring to a responsibility Muslims had as an umma to wage war against unbelievers until Sharia was established over them. This was the impetus for the jihadist incursions into North Africa, Europe, Persia, India and elsewhere. Question for John Guardiano: I take it you think that all that was wrong, and was based on a mistaken understanding of the Qur’an and Islam?

4. Al-Suyuti says that the Verse of the Sword (9:5) abrogates no less than 124 more peaceful and tolerant verses of the Qur’an. Tafsir al-Jalalayn asserts that the Qur’an’s ninth sura “was sent down when security was removed by the sword.” Ibn Kathir declares that Qur’an 9:5 “abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term….No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara’ah [the ninth sura] was revealed.” Ibn Juzayy agrees: the Verse of the Sword’s purpose is “abrogating every peace treaty in the Qur’an.”

None of them say that the Verse of the Sword applies only to the seventh century.

Question for John Guardiano: I take it that you believe that all these Islamic scholars misunderstood the Qur’an and formulated Islamic teaching incorrectly as a result?

5. A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that in 1991 was certified by the highest authority in Sunni Islam, Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” This manual, ‘Umdat al-Salik (available in English as Reliance of the Traveller), spends a considerable amount of time explaining jihad as “war against non-Muslims.” It spells out the nature of this warfare in quite specific terms: “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by a Jordanian jurist that corresponds to Muhammad’s instructions to call the unbelievers to Islam before fighting them: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya) . . . while remaining in their ancestral religions.” Also, it says if there is no caliph, Muslims must still wage jihad.

Question for John Guardiano: I take it you believe that the imams of Al-Azhar were wrong and misunderstood Islam when they certified this book as a reliable guide to the true teachings of Sunni Islam?

But perhaps Mr. Guardiano will dislike those questions, for he goes on to say this:

This is not to say that Islam is a religion of peace. Rather it is to say that Islam is far more rich and complicated than the simple caricature of Islam created by vehement right-wing critics like Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, Andrew McCarthy at National Review Online, and yes, my colleague here at NewsReal Blog, John L. Work. […]

A better approach would be to follow the counsel of Islamic scholar Daniel Pipes. Pipes urges Western leaders to encourage and promote moderate Islamic thinking and scholarship. This to help promote a moderate reformation of Islam.

But to follow this approach, you first have to believe that Islam has an inherent truth which is worth explicating and developing. I believe that it does; my right-wing critics believe otherwise; and therein lies the crux of our dispute.

Islam has an “inherent truth”? I can’t see anyone but a believer in Islam affirming that, so Mr. Guardiano and I do indeed part company on that one. But in any case, he seems to be saying that Islam is not a religion of peace, but that he thinks it can change, and that I think it cannot change. Actually, I have never said that it cannot change, but any realistic appraisal of the prospects for Islamic reform has to take into account such impediments to change as the content of the Qur’an and Sunnah, its traditional interpretation by the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, the death penalty for those who engage in heresy or innovation, and the closure of the gate of ijtihad.

For example, Guardiano quotes Daniel Pipes invoking the Sudanese reformer Mahmud Muhammad Taha, but fails to add that Taha was executed for heresy. In fact, all of the quotations he uses from Pipes show Pipes arguing that moderate Islam can exist, not that it exists now. Guardiano also apparently doesn’t know that Pipes has said: “Robert Spencer and I have discussed the perceived differences in our view of Islam. He and I concluded that, although we have different emphases – he deals more with scriptures, I more with history – we have no disagreements.”

Anyway, I hope Mr. Guardiano can handle a little mild-mannered criticism, and look forward to his substantive response to these points.

  • Ipso Facto

    Robert Spencer seems to be much closer to the position of Bat Ye´or than Daniel Pipes, according to this interview:

    “Question: Daniel Pipes’ slogan is “Fundamentalist Islam is the enemy; moderate Islam is the solution.” But do you think there is hope for change?

    B.Y.: I know moderate and brilliant Muslims, but I do not know of a school of thought, represented by teaching and publications, followed by millions of Muslims, called “moderate Islam.”

    Everyone hopes for a change, including Muslims. I never say “never.”

    But I think that changes will emerge if we start discussing these issues instead of hiding them under the carpet, and if we take measures to protect ourselves and become aware of language manipulation, like, for instance, pretending that jihad means peace and justice.

    We should also support secular and modernist Muslims who are also targeted and hope desperately for our help and encouragement."

    (Quoted from "Time of jihad", Interview of Bat Ye'or by William F. Katz, Dallas Morning News, June 18, 2005).

    And that is exactly what Robert Spencer is doing on Jihad Watch.

  • tarleton

    There is no moderate Islam….there is placid Islam … gasoline is placid in it's liquid form…just waiting for the spark of ignition
    Most of Islam are not Jihadist , but they are enablers and cunning supporters of Jihadists
    Where are all the peaceful moslems carrying signs such as ''not in our name''…where is the equiverlent of the ''million man Moslem march ?''…….the silence is deafening
    We are trying to appease Islam , like we were trying to appease Germany in the 30's….trying desperately to give them the bennifit of the doubt …it will end the same way

    For anyone with historical eyes to see , sooner or later this is all going to end with nuclear terrorism and ONLY then will Islam recieve it's just deserves

  • tarleton

    How many Moslems have you heard of that are not strict Koranic literalist ,or fundamentalist…..where is the equiveralant of the moslem Unitarion Church
    Exactly ,where are the moderate moslems who have enough sense to ''read between the lines'' or a broad minded metaphorical reading of the Koran…………there are NONE…they would be branded as heretics and blasphemers

    Islam is a Medieveal religion for a Medieval frame of mind…'s primitive …and unlike Christianity , it was too ridgid and inflexible to evolve and change with the times

    Fundamentalist Christians , who are biblical literalists can be troublesome and annoying …but unlike Islam, their founder was a gentle soul and a pacifist.
    Mohammed was demonic and Islam is malignant

    • Chris

      It's sad that the word "fundamentalist" is used in regards to christians. It has become a misused and dirty word. A fundamentalist christian simply believes that the Bible is correct right down to the Genesis creation account whereas the fundamentalist muslim is considered to be a violent murderer totally opposite to the christian. I make no apologies for being a literalist bible believer after all Jesus believed in the Creation account so why wouln't any sensible christian. After all to think otherwise would make Jesus either delusional or a liar. I'm also not sure about your meaning that christianity has evolved with the times. Does this mean its moral stance has evolved? Perhaps its stand on law or ..what exactly has evolved? Jesus message hasn't changed and nor should it. Sure there are indeed those who have massaged Jesus message to suit the times in terms of presentation and that's not a bad thing but smoothing any sharp edges off Christs message to make it more palatable is just not on.
      I like your description of Jesus as a gentle soul… nicely put. I also agree with your description of Islam.

  • Robert Bernier

    Every American should see this video !

    The ambition of Islam to conquer the world.
    For centuries Islam of the militants have been on the march to conquer the world. We did not notice because we chose not to notice. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in
    1920 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt and was in deep confrontation with the Egyptian government. The current goals for Islam to achieve global domination for a Muslim Caliphate: a world under strict Islamic “Sharia” law, pulling Muslims back to the 7th Century. Consult :

  • jbtrevor

    I couldn't finish D'souza's book…he placed more responsibility for for 9/11 and other terrorists attacks on American interests on the Left in America than he did on the Islamists themselves.

    RE: the current debate: If Mod Islam is possible…where the frig is it????

  • James Pawlak


    Dear Abdul & Fatima:

    This note, with the definition below, is being sent to you in response to your presumed claim to be a “Moderate Muslim” as per your ________ of ______.. If you are indeed such a person, then you will have no problems falling within the definition of “Moderate Muslim” given below.


    1.A person who makes a very public proclamation that s/he is a Muslim along with giving out his/her name, address, occupation and place of employment.
    2.A a person who then makes a very public rejection and condemnation of all of the teachings within the Koran, Hadith, Sharia and other Islamic teachings which allow or encourage, and sometimes command, the use of murder (eg Killing anyone who “insults” Mohammed or the Koran), rape and enslavement, genocide (eg Killing all Jews), perpetual war with “unbelievers” until they submit to Islam, lying to and stealing from such “unbelievers” and the very inferior legal and social status given by Islam to all “unbelievers” and all women.
    3.A person who then demands that all such teachings be stricken and removed from the Islamic texts noted above.
    4.A person who then very publicly inks-out of a copy of the Koran all those verses which support the above noted, inhumane and anti-civilization acts.

    Of course, you would be much more believable, as to your claim of being a “Moderate Muslim” if you would very publicly state the historical truths that Mohammed of Mecca and Medina was a murderer, bandit, liar and treaty-breaker and the sexual abuser of a nine-year-young girl-child.

    Now, are you a “Moderate Muslim” or a standard-and-dangerous follower of the ideology called Islam with all of its differences in teachings from the Faiths of the Jews, Christians, Baha'i and Sikhs?

    Curiously yours,
    Diego Matemoros

  • tanstaafl JW

    Islam is Islam. There is no "moderate" Islam. There is no "extreme" Islam. The doctrines of Islam are for all eternity, the original Qur'an is believed to be in Jannat (Heaven) and the copies on Earth are NOT to be modified in any fashion.

  • keeptonyblairforpm

    Perhaps you might like to read this – the Fatwa just released from an Islamic scholar here in Britain against suicide bombing and terror.

    I have just received it and haven't had the time yet to peruse the 90 pages. Since these 90 pages are not the complete story – it seems it is 600 in its original Urdu – we may have to wait some time until it is all translated. You might ask why it takes so many pages to say – "Suicide bombing and terrorism are WRONG. Don't indulge."

    Well, presumably because the writer here has to argue his case, by selecting and dissecting scripture.

    The question of whose version sticks in the long run is the big one, of course, and is the question we always come back to. With no overall authority in Islam, it's all in the interpretation, it seems. I can't quite see how this cleric, well-intentioned as he may well be, can trounce Mohammed if and when push comes to shove.

    So unless this man can persuade others to modernise their thinking and reject the koranic instructions to "kill the enemies of Islam" this fatwa may resolve nothing. After all, in this anti-political-democracy religion, all are free to 'democratically and personally' interpret scripture as they will.

    Great fun, isn't it?

    See more on Dr Tahir ul Qadri here:

  • Bill Ford

    The only certain moderate Muslims are the deceased. No other moderate Muslim exists. They are either Jihadist or Jihadists in waiting.

  • Democracy First

    I took note of this man's fatwa denouncing, unequivocally, terrorism – unlike the mealy-mouth denunciations of others, like CAIR.

    And i agree with you that, welcome as this is, until this view becomes the predominant one amongst Islamic theologians, imams and other leaders, – which means renouncing many of the most revered Islamic scholars of the past and present – it means little in practise. But a fine start it is. Here's hoping.

  • Len

    What is the solution other than killing a billion Muslims?

    • Adelaide

      Conversion to the truth. But like all religious, they are afraid to find it.

    • A Bit Profound

      Nuke Mecca & Hit all kown residences of Clarics on the same day & watch a speedy reformation that will forever pacify them. Short of that — Prepare For the Armageddon they will bring upon us.

      • mohamed

        nuke mecca : i think your ass will think more good than your head – dont u know dummy that saudi arabia"s money sleep in us banks ?

  • USMCSniper

    There are active and passive Jihadists and they are all Muslims. The active ones either commit the acts of terror or directly support and finance terrorism, amd the passive Jihadists cheer and pass out candies to the children whenever any Americans and/or Jews are killed by active Jihadists. Even when the passive ones smile to your face the thoughts of their minds are "Allahu Akbar" and death to all infidels.

  • happy infidel

    Trouble with a fatwah that calls for and end to terror, it wont be listened to because the koran and hadith and sunna all call for terror to be utilised by islam until only islam remains, his fatwah is was and will continue to be totaly a waste of time because it goes against what the koran hadith and sunna clearly state.

    Until islam rejects completely the teachings about violent aka lesser jihad and returns to greater aka inner jihad we will not see an end to bombings kidnapping murders.

  • 9-11 Infidel

    Ali Sina said it best: "I have always maintained that “moderate Muslim” is an oxymoron. We have two kinds of Muslims: Terrorist Muslims and ignorant Muslims. The former are those who know Islam well and live by its dictums. The latter have no clue about their religion and have an idealized image of Islam that has no bases in facts. "

  • 9-11 Infidel

    The trouble with westerners is that they let Islam hide behind the rubric of religion which equates Islam to say Christianity. Then they outlaw the use of terms such as jihadi so as not to offend the likes of CAIR, MSA or any other so-called Muslim "civic" organization.
    Rather than acting as modern-day Janissaries, Western leaders should be studying the enemy's playbooks…Koran, Hadiths, Sira, Reliance of the Traveler, etc. Whatever happened to Sun tzu's tenant of war to "know thy enemy?" Where is the strategy? Instead of playing whack-a-mole, we should sieze the psy-ops war away from the stealth jihadis and call these people what they are…using their terms and going after the real enemies like Saudi and Iran. They supply the monies, the philosophy and/or the IED parts to kill our soldiers and Marines. Islam needs another Gates of Vienna experience and the West needs a Charles Martel.

  • cochavi1

    Great article, great reply to Guardino, very sad truths. The world is going to go down, down, down until all non-Muslims stand together against 'good' = true Muslims.

  • kwg1

    IMHO Guardino now RIP! Compliments of RS!

  • jgreene

    There will be no peace with Islam until all IslamoFascists and their supporters are either DEAD or isolated from civilization. Islam will be an ongoing threat to humanity until the day Mecca and Medina and any redoubt of this evil Political Cult masquerading as a Religion of Peace is DESTROYED and/or Muslims are allowed to peacefully CONVERT to another religion.

  • Rae Conquista

    Hi y'all,

    I appreciate everyone's attempts to define a moderate moslem. I would like to propose a simple test. Is your own sister free to join any religion she wants to? If a moslem answers yes to this, that's a moderate moslem. If the moslem qualifies it in any way, then they are a normal, regular moslem, what we call radical.

    Even in Mecca. Even conversion to Hinduism. Even practicing yoga. When people in Mecca are free to believe what they want, the threat if islam will be said to be waning. A moderate moslem publicly states that people in Mecca should be free.

    Thanks for posting this,


  • A Bit Profound

    Moderate Islam is a simi-secular half ass Muslim as most Christians are half ass Christians. Islam itself is in no eway moderate. When Islam is not practiced as commanded by the Qur'an, that is irrelevant to what Islam actually is. When a Muslim becomes really devoute — Look Out.

  • Lary9

    The Quran is essentially hermetically sealed against contemporary exegesis by virtue of its divine corporealization. As long as faithful Muslims regard the text of the suras as the impregnable embodiment of Allah's nerve ganglia on earth, there will never be an Islamic reformation. That being said, without reformation, there may be moderate individual Muslims, but no moderate Islam.
    This is an unavoidable madness among religious fundamentalists wherever a religion has sacred texts that are elevated from canon to divine incarnations. Ask any right wing evangelical Christian.

  • Fay Cariker


  • mohamed

    to u all : any moslim read this talk will try to convinse all of u that islam is a peaceful religion and u will argue ??
    because most of u are brainwashed for 50 year by zionist media machin even i think most of u already are jewish or jewish slaves yes u r jewish slaves ?????? so respond bla bla bla and call names come on civilized nation show me your good manners